Getting Personal

by Amy L. Silva Rigtrup

Most of us have attended weddings and witnessed amazingly creative ways that couples have injected their personalities, interests and symbols from their love into the event. Not only do these elements stand out as creative and meaningful, but they also immerse their friends and loved ones into the essence of their relationship - leaving their guests with the feeling that they are part of this beautiful union.

The same can be done with funerals. Within the common events of a funeral, there are many opportunities to insert elements that make the services unique, memorable and meaningful. For the family, exploring personalization can be cathartic and engaging, inspiring them to fully reflect on the impact their loved one left on this world. 

There are no rules, limits or guidelines. 

It's important to remember that the funeral parlor, at it's origin, is much like a canvas. Funerals used to be held in the home, surrounded by family memorabilia, furniture, heirlooms - a familiarity that only a person's home can effortlessly exude. Funeral homes were created as a rented parlor to mimic that exact ritual, while making it more convenient and less taxing on the family.

When you think of it that way, it's easier to be open to the fact that, when planning a funeral, you are renting that parlor - you are free to make it "familiar" to the life and attributes of the person you are saying goodbye to. From music and pictures to videos, displays and mementos, that room you are renting is your canvas.

As a family member, never feel like an idea you might have can't be done. You'd be surprised how  willing funeral directors are to not only conceptualize your idea but also to expand on it. 

Part of why I'm doing this radio show and reaching out about this industry is to start a conversation. Not just between families and funeral directors in the midst of planning a funeral, but also to inspire conversations between family members before a death occurs.

For today's show, I provided some examples of different ways funerals can be personalized from funerals I have planned and witnessed as well as from ideas I have heard about. I also discussed my unexpectedly euphoric experience of having to plan my own funeral when I was in school. For a more in-depth example of the entire process of personalization from the perspective of a family member, I shared the elements of my aunt Ana's funeral, held just a year ago this week.

Ana was one of those people that was utterly and uniquely herself - always. It's a gift to know and love someone like this. As a family that cherished her, we had no choice but to make her funeral as unique as she was. It just couldn't be any other way.

There was music playing from her own iPod playlist, a celebrant that she chose for his heartfelt, humanistic and personalized prose with the perfect amount of humor, a video capturing her spirit and highlighting the best times of her life, live singing from her beloved niece who recomposed a song Ana loved and a family friend that embodied the soulful power of one of Ana's favorite artists. "Weaved" throughout the service was Ana's love of knitting. 

Ana learned to knit as a child and looking back, this hobby provided so much for her. Comfort in the task, pleasure in the completed project, challenge in the design, limitless options and a chance to create something, made with love, to share. She was a patient and inspiring teacher and loved the community created around the art of knitting.


Everyone at her service was given a knitted or crochet flower attached to a pin to wear in her memory. These flowers were made by friends, family members and their yarn loving networks around the globe. Here is a picture of the arrangements made from the flowers attached to her own knitting needles and held in place by her yarn.

This theme has carried beyond her services. Almost three months after she died, I gave birth to my daughter and used some of the flowers for her newborn pictures. Over the past year, family members have worn their flower pins to every family gathering. As a person, she was unforgettable. As her family, we hope that looking down on us, she sees that we will always remember.



CLICK HERE to view her video tribute

CLICK HERE to view the eulogy

Inspiration can come from anywhere; a treasured recipe, a tangible item, a song, a favorite saying - anything. Elements can be displayed, worn or given as mementos. There are also creative ways for attendees to share their memories in special ways for the family to keep. Start with what sets your loved one apart and the impact that their life had on everyone they knew. From there, even if you don't gain an idea, you'll gain an element of comfort from simply reflecting on the life that they lived.


The Silva Lining is thankful for our wonderful sponsor, St. Anthony of Padua Credit Union. We are proud to be sponsored by such an incredible bank, that in an age of conglomerate banks treating people like numbers, maintains a relationship with its members based on trust, friendly service and loyalty. With competitive rates for savings accounts and various loans, St. Anthony of Padua can handle all of your financial needs. Convenient online banking and more information at